A Visit to De Halve Mann Brewery
Mar. 11, 2016
If I had to say one word about De Halve Mann (Half Moon) brewery, it'd be awesome. Smack dab in the middle of the medieval city of Bruge, it's the most visited brewery in Belgium, and for good reason, as it's a fully functional modern brewery, while also a piece of living history. Owner Xavier Vanneste is the sixth generation of the current family's 150 year ownership, but there's been continuous brewing on site for 500 years.
Faced with a need to expand operations, Xavier found himself at a crossroads. He could take the easy route, move the brewery to an industrial park outside of town, or the much more difficult route, to renovate a centuries old building which is also a UNESCO protected site.
Pointing to the building's long brewing history, he "didn't want to be the last guy in that tradition." After some construction gymnastics, the modern brewery was finished in 2014, nestled in with varying decades of original equipment that now serves as a museum. A bottling line was built a few miles outside of the old town and a pipeline will pump the beer from the old brewery to bottling--a wow feat of engineering!
A huge polished copper coolship greets visitors on the way down from the roof, where the hot wort was cooled in the open air. As an aside, just because it's so interesting, in 1937 the brewery used a different cooling device, probably to cool wort quicker with less exposure to the elements. It flowed into a trough at top and flowed over the water cooled pipes into open fermenters where it was (hopefully) at the proper temperature to pitch yeast.
Compared to the closed systems of modern brewing, historical brewing was fraught with danger of infection and spoilage. No wonder brewers adopted a patron Saint (Arnold) to protect the fermentation. After open fermenting, the beer drained to lagering tanks to rest before heading to bottling or kegging, or probably barreling if you go back a bit. These lager tanks had to be hand cleaned at great danger. It was a two man job, one to watch the other work and drag him out if knocked unconscious by lingering CO2. They tested for CO2 by putting a lit candle in the tank. If it kept burning, there was probably enough oxygen to enter.
The signature beer of De Halve Man is Straffe Hendrix (Strong Henri after the hereditary first name of the Maes family side of Xavier's lineage). The Triple is the original recipe as Xavier's grandfather made it, and there's also an excellent quadruple. Seasonally, the Heritage quad is world class, and we often have vintages in our cellars. Always aged in oak barrels for a year, the 2013 (for 2014 release) is a blend of quad aged in cognac and bordeaux red wine barrels. Also seasonal, the Wild is really unique: their classic triple with a funky shot of Brettanomyces yeast!